— The Hill (@thehill) January 10, 2021
I’m a boomer.
I’ve lived through many years of American tragedy, the hope of American awakening, and the disappointment that it has not.
The first time my illusion of safety and goodness was shattered was November 22, 1963.
It was a normal Friday morning. I was 13 years old, walking from class to class in the hallway of my school when it was announced over the loudspeaker: our President, John F. Kennedy, has been shot, and he is dead. School was dismissed, and we were all sent home in shock.
Over the next days, we watched the heart-wrenching, iconic coverage of the assassination, the funeral procession, and the swearing-in of LBJ as the 36th President of the United States.
One year later, as a 14-year-old, I became aware of a growing movement of demonstrations against the escalating role of my country in the Vietnam War. I watched as African-American, women’s liberation, Chicano, and organized labor movements added their voices to the opposition. Academics, journalists, lawyers, physicians, clergy were all speaking out against the war.
As my own friends became casualties of war, I felt this as a personal tragedy. I began to viscerally understand the need to stop this war.
Next came the civil rights movement, gaining momentum in the mid-1960s. The centerpiece of the movement was nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., aimed at ending institutionalized racism and segregation.
Another profound shock entered my consciousness when on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated while speaking in Memphis, Tennessee. He died almost immediately. I was standing in front of the television, ironing my blouse when I heard the news. I remember dropping to my knees and wailing. The iron burned my suddenly unattended blouse. I was 17.
Just two months later, on June 6, 1968, we learned that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. It was a warm Friday morning when we heard the outcome of the night before. A team of six surgeons had completed emergency surgery to remove bullet fragments from his brain stem. He had suffered massive blood loss from his head wound and had suffered irreparable brain damage. He never regained consciousness. His family took him off life support, and he was gone.
Two years later, on May 4, 1970, four students were killed, and nine wounded at Kent State University. The Ohio National Guard opened fire on about 300 students who were peacefully protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War into neutral Cambodia. Twenty-eight National Guard soldiers fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of just 13 second. This marked the first time in American history that a student had been killed in an anti-war gathering.
The shootings triggered immediate and massive outrage on campuses around the country. More than four million students participated in organized walkouts at hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools. This was the largest student strike in the history of the United States at that time. I was one of those students. I was 20.
Perhaps in looking at this six-and-a-half year timeline, you can see why I began to not only mistrust, but actually hate my country. And there was more: Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal, more wars we should never have been involved in, Clinton-Lewinsky, and the Bush WMD/9-11 years.
I have been ashamed of who we are for a very long time. I hate the underpinnings of racism that live in our country. I abhor how we cater to the rich and ignore those in need. Our actions tell me that we don’t invest in education, we don’t honor choice, we don’t value women or our diverse population.
Our jingoistic rhetoric angers me. I have been deeply angry at my country for many years.
January 6, 2021, we all witnessed a massive national crisis—the insurrection of our nation’s Capitol. We watched as this horror unfolded on international media.
My heart gripped with fear as our own President committed sedition. I am frightened that his followers continue to be incited in their treasonous acts. I am saddened that our country is so deeply divided. I witnessed how easily our democracy can be obliterated by the actions of an aspiring dictator and his minions. I am thankful that the outcome wasn’t far worse.
Imagine my surprise that my emotional reaction to this is to feel a renewed love for my country.
I witnessed the fragility of our democracy and I feel protective of it, just as I would be protective of a wounded child.
America has deep wounds and an underlying addiction to power.
Just as an addict enters a 12-step program for recovery but has to first admit they are powerless over their addiction; we, as a country, have to admit that we have a deep wound.
No more bullsh*t about “this is not who we are.” This is exactly who we are. We must recognize it and claim it. Only then might we begin the process of healing our wounds, overcoming our addiction.
Only then can we nurture the hope of an American awakening.